Common Core Alignment and Instructional Feedback: A Principal’s Role in Implementation
Teachers have poured copious amount of time, energy, creativity, and innovation into revamping their curriculum to align to the Common Core. They have audited their curriculum, exposing gaps where change is needed. They have worked in departments, identifying specific standards on which to focus. They have utilized their grade level teams to examine student work and make adjustments accordingly. They have spent hours in professional development sessions, both in house and externally, to develop materials and activities that will push their students to sharpen skills in both procedural and conceptual thinking. I have watched teachers work tirelessly to change the foundations of their curriculum and their classrooms, and it is thus my mission to provide tangible, nuanced, grade specific, content focused feedback as this work moves forward.
Kate Darling, 8th Grade Science Teacher
Kate is a content guru. She has spent the past year injecting significantly more reading and writing into her curriculum, taking on the role of a true English Language Arts teacher with her science content providing the base. Providing pinpointed feedback in her classroom is tricky business; I want to praise her for her inclusion of common core aligned literacy tasks while also continuing to push her to hone the rigor and feedback of the tasks she asks her students to perform.
Recently, Kate instituted a mini-unit on Ebola to feed our students’ need to know more about the hot topic in the headlines. She had students doing individual research, reading a plethora of articles, and exploring this high interest topic through discussions and pair work. The students’ accumulating project was three fold: take on a role of interest, choose a format of interest, and use the role and format as a platform to synthesize the research gathered from multiple internet resources. I was blown away by this innovative, multi-text, format nuanced assessment that was rooted in science.
As I was sitting in her classroom writing up a formal observation, I struggled with constructive feedback. I was so excited by the structure of her assessment that the only thing I could conjure up in the moment to focus on was the inclusion of evidence, how much to include, and asking students to cite resources in order to give validity to the evidence.
It wasn’t until Kate and I followed up in person to de-brief the observation that we surfaced where to push students next: how would they be assessed? For what standards would Kate hold them accountable? It became clear that it wasn’t the actual assignments, assessments, and activities that Kate was coming up with that needed a sharper Common-Core eye, it was the feedback to students on their output that required attention.
Brooke Feldman, 8th Grade History Teacher
Brooke has spent seven years continuing to transform and perfect her curriculum, and it is always exciting to see her most recent ideas play out in practice. She has recently been stuck on how to better teach a skill with which our students routinely struggle: choosing the most relevant evidence for their argument. Brooke invited me to observe a lesson where she was introducing a new tactic for students to find the “best evidence.”
Brooke had students reading text closely, collaborating with their peers to discuss what evidence best supports their argument, working both in groups and individually and verbally defending their evidentiary choices. By spending time placing such emphasis on the importance of finding strong evidence, Brooke is inherently changing the structure of her class to allow students the time to explore the issues of evidentiary support. It was inspiring to see a seventh year teacher trying something new in order to continue to reach the rigor and depth of knowledge that the Common Core is pushing students to attain.
Again, I was excited to see such strong initiatives being taken. My observation was full of praise, but it also was full of exciting ways to continue to hone this new practice that Brooke was trying out.
She was excited to hear feedback, which helped the partnership of the two of us diving into the lesson and deciding what else could be done to make sure her objective of “selecting the best evidence” was reached. In this instance, it was unpacking the activity itself, and deciding what steps the students need to take next in order to fully reach the root of standard RI.1: citing the text evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
As teachers continue to revamp and realign their curriculum, I am continuing to hone my observational eye towards providing support in this new vein. Teachers who are ready to fully undertake this transition are excited about their work; it is my duty as their principal to help them continue to use this energy to further their practices, curriculum, and instructional delivery.